Aberthaw power station:  the facts

Where: Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales

Coal sources: Approximately 95% Welsh Coal, 5% Russian coal.1

Owned by: RWE Npower2

Aberthaw is one of Europe’s top 30 dirtiest and most toxic power stations3

Health and Environmental impacts

Aberthaw contributes significantly to air pollution, “a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths” according to The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO).4

Because Aberthaw mainly burns Welsh coal, it produces more nitrogen oxide per unit of energy than  any other UK power station.5 Nitrogen oxide emissions cause cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, asthma, reduced life expectancy and creates acid rain.

Across the UK and Europe, Aberthaw causes:

  • 120 Cases of Chronic bronchitis
  • 240 Hospital emissions
  • 41,490 Lost working days
  • 5,540 Asthma attacks in children6

For seven years, Aberthaw emitted double the legal limit of nitrogen oxide and the UK was fined in September 2016. Even if RWE Npower changed the source of the coal to imported coal to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, and implemented abatement technology, the power station would still be responsible for the deaths of 270 people a year.

At 32,000 tonnes per year, Aberthaw is the third highest emitter of Nitrogen Oxide in Europe.7

Aberthaw is also one of the UK’s biggest emitters of mercury, one of the World Health Organisation’s top 10 chemicals of major public health concern. Mercury affects children’s development in utero, as well as cognitive development in early life. Mercury discharges from Aberthaw into the Bristol Channel, and enters the ecosystem and food chain via fish.8

Social impacts

Aberthaw operators state a ‘symbiotic relationship’ between Welsh opencast coal mining and Aberthaw.

Planning applications for Nant Llesg opencast coal mine (refused in 2015, subject to appeal) cited Aberthaw as a reason to keep investing in Welsh opencast.

We have suffered noise and dust from the massive Ffos-y-fran opencast mine for eight years. An operation justified by Aberthaw’s ‘need’ for the coal,” says Chris Austin from the United Valleys Action Group (UVAG).

In addition to health impacts caused by dust and water pollution, opencast coal mining presents ongoing challenges for Welsh communities who have already suffered since the miners strike. When a mine closes, the socio-economic impacts are still felt at least 20 years into the future. Aberthaw perpetuates the dependency on harmful opencast for these communities.

Opencast coal mining jobs are shorter-term, lower-skilled and more poorly paid than jobs in the deep pit mines or the previous era.9

Beyond Wales, Aberthaw’s social impacts are felt as far as Russia, where it sources about 5% or more of its coal. Russian mining is forcibly displacing indigenous populations, and are responsible for 40-50 fatalities per year among its workforce.

Climate impacts

Eminant NASA climate scientist James Hansen said in 2009, ‘Coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and life on our planet’

Coal-fired power stations are the single biggest global source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Aberthaw emits 8,500 million tonnes of CO2 annually, and is one of the top 30 biggest contributors to climate change of all European power stations.

What if Aberthaw closes?

  • Instant 18% reduction in Wales greenhouse gas emissions
  • Coal mine restoration – Ffos-y-fran and other south wales opencast coal mines will need to be restored as specified in their original planning applications
  • Opens a space for renewable investment
  • Investments in unexploited coal in south Wales will become stranded, as their value becomes zero
  • There will be an opportunity to invest in renewables in Wales which will create more jobs, this needs to be fully considered to ensure as little disruption to the work force and the people they rely on as possible. There must be a Just Transition for mining and power station workers.

What else does RWE do?

RWE operates three lignite mines in the Rhineland, Germany, extracting approximately 100 million tonnes of coal annually. Lignite or brown coal is a poor quality fossil fuel which is burnt close to the point of extraction. This winter (2016/2017) RWE want to fell the remaining part of the biologically diverse Hambacher Forest where activists have been taking direct action against the mines and coal generation.

Aberthaw has to close before 2025

If Aberthaw stays open until 2025, approximately 2,160 people will have died prematurely from the impact of the air pollution it causes. Many more people will become sick in the places where the coal is mined as well as more villages being displaced, probably through force and violence.